Product Reviews

HTC U11 Life

The flagship HTC U11 has a new younger sibling, as the Taiwanese firm looks to inject some youth appeal into its headlining handset line with the HTC U11 Life.

Boasting a more compact form factor, a one-hand-friendly 5.2-inch display, Snapdragon 630 chipset, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, 16MP rear camera, 16MP front camera and a 2,600mAh battery.

It’s a decent spec lineup for a phone that doesn’t command too steep an asking price, but with strong competition, the HTC U11 Life has its work cut out to make an impact.

HTC U11 Life price and availability

The HTC U11 Life price is set at £349 ($460, AU$600) SIM-free, which looking at the spec sheet is a highly attractive price tag. 

It puts it up against the likes of the Honor 9, Moto X4 and Samsung Galaxy A5, with the added bonus of a pure Android operating system and guaranteed swift security and software updates thanks to Android One (expect in the US for the time being).

HTC U11 Life pre-orders open on November 2, although we’re still waiting to hear when its official release date will be. We’ll be updating this hands on look with the details as soon as we know them.

So far, HTC has confirmed that the U11 Life will be available in the US, UK and Europe.

Design and display

You can immediately see the U11 influence in the HTC U11 Life, with the same curved design, front home button come fingerprint scanner flanked by touch sensitive navigation keys and prominent camera on the rear.

That does mean the front of the U11 Life is a little bezel heavy, but at 149.09 x 72.9 x 8.1mm the U11 Life sits far more snugly in the palm, making it easy to use one-handed. 

We could easily stretch our thumb across the 5.2-inch display, and the curved rear nestles securely into your hand for a strong grip.

You’ll be thankful of getting your fingers around the U11 Life too, as the slippery acrylic glass finish doesn’t offer up much in the way of resistance. That acrylic glass may look like the same as you’ll find on the U11 and U11 Plus, but it’s not.

With a different composition it feels cheaper in the hand, which reduces its premium appeal, but it feels solid, and capable of handling the odd knock better than its larger siblings. Yet, like the other U11s, it’s also an absolute fingerprint magnet.

It weighs in at 142g, and we found it felt surprisingly light when we picked it up. This is a phone that you can hold for extended period of times without issue, and then easily forget about when you slip it into a pocket or bag.

HTC U11 Life hands on gallery

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The HTC U11 Life also has IP67 dust and water resistant, meaning it’ll survive submersion in 1 meter (3.3ft) of water for up to half and hour without any ill effects.

On the base a USB-C port is joined by a single speaker, which doesn’t have the same Boomsound HiFi feature as its more expensive namesakes – it results in a poorer audio performance, but it’s no worse than its similarly priced competitors.

Audiophiles will note that there is no headphone jack here, although Google does provide an adapter with its own built in DAC in the box, so you don’t have to splash out on a new set of cans. However, you will also find HTC’s USonic earbuds in the box too, which plug directly into the USB-C port.

You’ll also get to choose from two HTC U11 Life colors: Sapphire Blue and Brilliant Black. The HTC U11 Life comes with a 5.2-inch, full HD (1080 x 1920) Super LCD display which is bright and clear.

We watched a few YouTube videos on the U11 Life during our time with the phone, and found the experience and viewing angles were perfectly acceptable with no obvious flaws to report.

Performance and interface

The main talking point about the HTC U11 Life is it’s the firm’s (and most of Europe’s) first Android One device. It means you get a pure Android 8 Oreo experience on screen, free from HTC’s Sense overlay and duplicate apps, and guarantees on future updates.

Together with Google, HTC promises three years of monthly security update and two years of OS upgrades for the U11 Life, giving the handset some solid longevity. 

Updates should also arrive promptly, in line with Google’s own Pixel devices, ensuring you’re among the first to have the latest and greatest software and protection.

There is slightly worse news for those in the US though, as while the handset will be arriving Stateside, the exclusive deal with T-Mobile means a version running HTC’s Sense UI rather than Android One is destined for North America. We’ll let you know if that ever changes.

Under the hood Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 630 chipset is paired with a hearty 4GB of RAM which saw Android run smoothly during our hands on time, but we won’t know its true performance until our full review.

There’s also 64GB of internal storage for you to play with, plus a microSD slot allowing you to expand on that space if you need more.

HTC’s squeezable Edge Sense technology also features on the U11 Life, giving you all the abilities that you’ll find on the U11, including giving you an easy way to launch Google Assistant and perform certain actions within your favorite apps.

Camera and battery

The HTC U11 comes with a pair of 16MP cameras, one on the front and one on the back – although both a tuned slightly differently.

On the rear the 16MP snapper comes with a f/2.0 aperture, phase detection autofocus, face detection, 4K video recording and a pro mode with manual controls and RAW format support.

From a brief time trying out the camera – with non-final software – the U11 Life seemed to get on pretty well in our slightly dingy demo area, but we’ll explore it in full detail come our final review.

On the front the second 16MP camera also features a f/2.0 aperture, but can only record up to 1080p video and boasts a selfie panorama mode – signalling the main use HTC foresees for this snapper.

In terms of battery the HTC U11 Life has a 2,600mAh power pack which is claimed to have better performance than 2016’s HTC 10. HTC claims you’re looking at an additional two hours of video playback, or 20 hours of music playback, but we’ll put this to the test in our review.

Early verdict

The HTC U11 Life brings together a solid set of features at an accessible price point, making it difficult to find any real floors with this handset.

It’s going to perform well, take some decent pictures and should last a full day on a single charge, but it may struggle to stand out in an already crowded market with little extra to offer over any of its rivals.

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